Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, the Archbishop of Johannesburg, celebrated Mass on 28 October at the Carmelite Retreat Centre in Benoni to celebrate the 25 years of the presence of the Carmelites in Johannesburg.
Present at the celebration of this 25 years were Fr. Muguel Marquez, the Superior General of Discalced Carmelites, Fr. Silvestre D’Souza, the Provincial Superior of Carmelites – Karnataka-Goa Province, and their two definitors.
Speaking about the Carmelite Order after Mass, the Archbishop said over the years the Carmelite Fathers distinguished themselves in four areas, and he now realises that it is more than that. He observed that as the number of parishioners in the three parishes where they work grew it became evident that there was a need to extent the Church building in order to accommodate new members. He said the priests offered the requisite leadership, and parishioners took up the challenge, “Because of the obvious need parishioners dug deep into their pockets and the result was stunning. Beautiful structures have been built, worthy of being called places of worship.”
He made it known that the priests themselves imported statues, stations of the cross, tabernacles, chalices, cyboria and other things of which he said, “This simply added beauty to the churches and created a spiritually welcoming environment.” The Archbishop noted that the second distinguishing feature of the pastoral ministry of the Carmelite fathers is their rare ability to attract people of diverse cultural backgrounds and be able to keep the congregation together. He acknowledged that promoting and keeping unity in a parish of people of different language groups easily presents a daunting task.
For that reason he said, “The Carmelite Fathers appear to have a successful recipe, they appear to preach and live consistently the gospel that says you are all baptised in Christ and there are no more distinction between Jew and Greek, but all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” Archbishop Tlhagale remarked that living up to the ideal of Christian unity at the level of parish is in itself a gift of grace. “Living, working, and praying together is an act of Christian witnessing which is sorely needed in a broader society which is weighed down by the different kinds of divisions.”
He pointed out that thirdly, the Carmelite Fathers have become known for their ministry of prayer, meditation, spiritual healing, and of ways and means of living in God’s presence. The Archbishop hinted that this ministry has culminated in building a Carmel retreat centre for individuals, groups, sodalities, and parish communities, “It is an oasis of spiritual peace for people who live in a world of constant community activism, ruthless competition, frenzied lifestyle, or sheer drudgery.” Based on that fact he said breakaway retreats at Carmel are intended to free people from the pressures of life and to bring them closer to Christ who says, “Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest.”
Moving on to the fourth feature of the Carmelite Fathers he reckoned that the priests at Carmel have always worked together as a community, lived together as a community, and given witness as a praying community. “It is this togetherness in work and prayer that is a strong reminder of the disciples of Christ who are bound together by their mission of evangelising nations, and the life of community prayer,” advised the Archbishop. He noted that a community of priests shields it’s members from spiritual assault, and it is a source of support during moments of need. Archbishop Tlhagale asserted that to be in the company of men who pray together is in itself a great source of consolation and inspiration. “The practice of community prayer is consistent with Jesus’ promise that where two or three meet in my name I will be there with them.”
He further remarked that the success of the projects of the Carmelite fathers can equally be based on another scriptural promise that says, “if two of you on earth agree to ask anything at all it will be granted by my father in heaven.”
There is just one area where the Archbishop hoped the Carmelite Fathers and Sisters would work on stating that although they are committed to a life of prayer, have brought an abundance of blessing for people of South Africa in Johannesburg, they have failed in one thing… They have failed to reproduce themselves.